Friday, February 13, 2015

The Evolution of Coming Out

Because society assumes that everyone is straight, those of us who are not end up having to “come out” and let people know that we are gay. I first started doing this when I was 19 and how I have come out has evolved fairly drastically over the years.

The first time I came out  was a horrible experience. It was in the middle of the AIDS epidemic  and around the time that the Ryan White story was first airing. Being out and gay was not considered a good thing and we were feared by many. The first person I told, in a letter because I couldn't bring myself to say it out loud, was my best friend. That was the last time I would speak to her for more than 20 years.*

Back then, coming out could also mean losing your job, which happened to me. You learned very quickly to read people, to sit back and wait before sharing personal details of your life.

Coming out got easier as society became more accepting. Luckily I live in one of the most accepting countries, as many LGBTQ people are not yet at a point where their coming out is easier. Many are still persecuted, or worse, if they do come out.

Coming out also got easier as I got older. I learned to fight for my rights, leading one company I worked for to include same-sex families in their new benefits packages that they were rolling out to employees. Before I spoke up it had never crossed their mind that they should.

Yet there were still difficult times. Canada may have passed anti-discrimination laws, made gay marriage legal  and as a whole seems like a very inclusive country. That doesn’t make every individual suddenly open minded and ready to embrace us.

I’ve had problems booking a motel room for our family of 3, with the owner insisting that since there was only one bed (Liam was going to sleep on the couch) that Hilary and I would need 2 rooms. I’ve had people physically step away from me, not wanting to shake my hand and I’ve had people who were previously friendly, chatting around the water cooler, suddenly avoid casual chit-chat before work.

Having worked at my last job for more than 10 years, and with Liam now in his 9th year at the same school, my opportunities for meeting new people and having to come out to them were fairly limited. When they would come up, a new kid joined Liam’s class or a new hire at work, I was surrounded by friends to whom I was already out and who were supportive. It made for a very safe and comfortable environment and I rarely gave much thought to “coming out” and would more likely simply refer to Hilary as if the new person already knew that our family was made up of two women.

Then 5 weeks ago I started a new job. Suddenly the prospect of having to “come out” to a whole group of people, people that I didn’t know anything about, was before me. That was when I realized not only how much I have changed in the past 25 years, but how much society has changed too. Not a single person batted an eye when I mentioned Hilary. No one stepped back or even made it seem like it was worth mentioning. I was telling them about my family the same way they were telling me about theirs. Every single one of them, regardless of their age, background, strong religious belief or nationality simply took it in stride that I was gay. They were more interested in the fact that my hair was blue.

I’m glad that as a society we have come so far. There are still many problems in our world to overcome, but for me at least, it seems that the evolution has taken me to a place that I no longer need to "come out" and I can just be me.

*We reconnected briefly on Facebook a few years ago. She, now the mother of 4, apologized for how she handled things and realized that being around someone who was gay was not what she had once feared. She hoped that she had grown enough as a person to not pass that negativity on to her children and that should any of them come out to her, that she could be there for them.